Panerai began making watches in Florence, Italy back in 1860, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that the firm produced its first wristwatch. By then its roots in Florence were as deep as those in Switzerland, where Panerai watches were produced.
The breakthrough for the company was an order for diving watches from the Italian Navy, for whom Panerai had been creating instruments of various types since the turn of the century. With a war coming on, the navy was keen to outfit its elite corps of frogmen with wristwatches.
Featuring a Rolex movement, the limited-edition Panerai Radiomir (only 300 were made) was designed for use by commandos and torpedo riders—frogmen who rode a slow-moving torpedo toward a target before attaching a timed mine to the underside of a ship and then riding away. The watches had a cushion-shaped case, a screw-down crown to keep water out of the movement, and oiled-leather straps that were long enough to be worn on the outside of a diving suit. Given their limited supply and the tough conditions they were subjected to, these watches are very highly prized by collectors today.
The watch took its name, Radiomir, from the luminous material that Panerai first developed in 1910. Made of zinc sulphide and radium bromide, Radiomir allowed the numbers and hands on a watch to be read in dark conditions. It was replaced in 1949 by Luminor, which glows thanks to the presence of tritium, a less-dangerous compound than radium bromide.
Throughout the 1950s and ’60s, Panerai continued to produce wristwatches for the Italian Navy in regular and destro (left-handed) versions. Some watches from this period were known as Trittico watches, thanks to their trio of features, which included a depth gauge.
Panerai also made Kampfschwimmer watches, some with so-called California dials (numbers on the bottom, Roman numerals on the top), for Germany’s only postwar commando unit. And in 1956, Panerai created a large-face Radiomir watch for the Egyptian Navy.
Panerai might have remained a military diving watch in the minds of the public had it not been for Sylvester Stallone, who, in 1995, purchased a Luminor while on location in Italy. Sales of the watches jumped after its debut in Stallone’s “Daylight,” and Sly even had some watches—dubbed Slytech—made with his signature engraved on the back. These he gave as gifts to friends, including fellow action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)
National Watch and Clock Museum
Clubs & Associations
Other Great Reference Sites
Most watched eBay auctions
Recent News: Panerai Watches
Source: Google News
Introducing The Panerai Luminor 1950 3 Days Titanio DLC 47MM (Live Pictures ...Haute Time, October 3rd
So called because of its distinctive dial, with combines Roman and Arabic numerals and indicators, the “California” is a design with a cult following ever since it was first introduced in a 1936 Panerai Radiomir wristwatch. Check out this early Panerai...Read more
6 Most Expensive Panerai Watches in the WorldInsider Monkey (blog), October 1st
If you are passionate about elegant, luxurious watches and truly rare pieces, then you have come to the right page. Before we show you the list of the most expensive watches ever sold from the world famous brand Officine Panerai, we'll tell you a...Read more
Panerai draws from its history to create classic designs with innovative movementsSouth China Morning Post (subscription), September 29th
For Angelo Bonati, CEO of Officine Panerai, the lure of mechanical watches rises above any political or economic uncertainties. “The market for high-end watchmaking is unusual in the context of luxury and has elements which are irrational and unique...Read more
Régates Royales-Trophée Panerai - a fabulous week of sailing concludesSail World, September 26th
It is then Moonbeam IV to seize the gold in the Big Boats division at the Régates Royales-Trophée Panerai, ahead of her older sister Moonbeam of Fife. It was close racing among the gaffers too as Marigold, the “oldest of the oldies” needed to win today...Read more
Panerai Repairs a Priceless Clock in the Famed Florence DuomoRobb Report, September 25th
While time and tide may wait for no man, the same cannot always be said for historic timepieces. Such was the case of the famed 15th-century clock of Paolo Uccello, which was restored by horologists at Officine Panerai. Housed in the Duomo in Florence, ...Read more
2015 Régates Royales - Trophée Panerai - Big fleet for 37th eventSail World (press release), September 22nd
The Régates Royales are celebrating their 37th anniversary with more than one hundred and fifty boats, divided into classics, vintage, metric classes and Dragons sailing in the stunning Bay of Cannes all week long, from September 22 to 27. With an ...Read more
Panerai New bookWorld Tempus (press release), September 21st
Published in Italy on the 2nd of July, the new Panerai book tells the story of the past and present of the Florentine brand Panerai. Published by the Italian publishing house Marsilio and created with the editorial coordination of the Cologni...Read more
Angelo Bonati: A Constant Presence at PaneraiInternational New York Times, September 7th
In comparison, Officine Panerai's rise to prominence has taken but the blink of an eye. In the 18 years since the Compagnie Financière Richemont, then called the Vendôme Group, purchased the obscure Italian brand, Panerai has grown from a single...Read more